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Baker's Dozen
Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.

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BAKER'S DOZEN for 08/27/2003
A Picture's Worth...
Buddy Scalera on the Visual Reference for Comic Artists series of CD-ROMs

He got his start working for Wizard, the magazine that's been called both the bible and bane of comics, and was quite instrumental in the creation of their extremely popular [and now defunct] original website, Then he left the safety of those environs to strike out as a freelancer, continuing to contribute his journalistic work to a number of sources while also carving out a niche for himself as a comics writer and self-publisher, very often working on books in both the "big leagues" and small press simultaneously. More recently, he's begun to release a series of affordably priced, extremely well done CDs of pictorial reference aimed at directly at the comics market.

In short, it would appear that Buddy Scalera has already done it all. But to hear him tell it, he's just begun his journey. And if the following interview is any indication, there's little reason to doubt him on that front...and the best is yet to come.

Bill Baker: Visual Reference for Comic Artists: Vol. 3 will be hitting store shelves today. How would you describe the VRCA series to those who might be unfamiliar with it?

Buddy Scalera: These are pose files on CD-ROM with models striking superheroic poses. But it contains more than just people, it also has many city shots, animals, and vehicles that an artist may be called upon to draw in a comic book. There's over 600 pictures of people, places, and things useful to a comic book artist.

BB: You've been largely known as a writer in the business, working both as a journalist and scripter of comics. What prompted you to start this series in the first place?

BS: I worked on a self-published comic a few years back called Necrotic. And we shot some model shots and locations for our artist. And I started thinking that these photos would make a really good resource for other artists. But at the time, there were no digital cameras, so I did everything on film. I actually shot quite a bit of film, and it got very expensive.

I came back to the idea when I was working at one of the Wizard World Chicago conventions. I was listening to Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti give feedback to aspiring artists. And they kept telling them "work from photo reference" as a way to improve their art. I also heard this feedback a lot when I was running (online) and Wizard School classes (at the convention). And I started to look around at the resources out there, and I noticed that they were all very expensive. Plus, I noticed that an artist's studio could get pretty cluttered with clip files and books.

So I'd been thinking about this for quite a while, and then I started co-writing Deadpool with Jimmy Palmiotti. And I realized that it takes a really long time to set up a scene, if you want to see something really specific. And I realized that the Visual Reference on CD-ROM idea was good for both artists and writers.

BB: How would you describe your target audience? Is this something that's primarily meant for the beginning artist, or might experienced and veteran artists find it useful, too?

BS: Vegetarians. No wait, that's for another question...

I am targeting that section of artists who are trying to draw accurate anatomy and backgrounds. So they can be aspiring artists trying to break in or seasoned pros.

BB: OK, you said "professionals" above. Who are some of these folks who use these references? Are we talking about long-established pros, such as folks who work for the "Big Two", who are buying the Visual Reference discs?

BS: Lots of pros have utilized the disk. I've gotten feedback from people like Darick Robertson, Tom Raney, Adam and Andy Kubert, Dan Fraga, Jimmy Palmiotti, Ron Garney and several others. In fact, their feedback is what helps me improve the product with each new release. As you know, each disk has all-new pictures, so I am constantly looking for new ways to shoot models and other reference.

Actually my strongest response has been from established pros. These are people who know the value of good photo reference. These are people who probably have a library of books and a giant clip file of pictures they found in magazines. When these pros see how I have organized and lighted these pictures, they often buy a copy for themselves and for their studio mates. They see the value immediately.

I have a harder time selling the idea to newer artists. It's tough to get them to understand that photo reference isn't an artistic weakness...or an insult to their talent. Photo reference is just a tool that helps them achieve better art results without having to spend inordinate amounts of time looking for reference. But sometimes when I am at a convention, I will sell a copy to a professional artist, and then the younger artists will line up to buy one too. I think they recognize that the CD is another tool, like a particular brush or paper, that helps them create their art.

BB: What do these puppies cost, what are the basic system requirements to run them, and where can interested parties find out more about -- or even buy -- them?

BS: The suggested retail is $10 for each CD. That gives the people about 500-600 pictures per disk, which is a good value. A lot of people have emailed me that they were surprised that the disks looked so professional and I managed to keep the prices reasonable. People can buy the disks at their local comic book retailer. The current disk and all of the back disks are all available through Diamond. And there are a few online stores like Bud Plant (, where you can get them as well.

The disks run on Mac or PC computer.

BB: For those who don't have ready access to a computer, will you eventually be releasing these as books?

BS: I have been looking into the idea, but for the short term, I plan to stay with CD-ROMs. I like playing with multimedia, and I have found ways to improve navigation and interaction for the user. I'd be interested if a book publisher came along and wanted to publish them into books. I think that would be good because I don't know a whole lot about book publishing.

BB: How many of these discs do you see putting out? Have you reached the limits of what you can shoot that will be useful for comic artists, or do you see a lot of potential areas you haven't covered in the series yet? [i.e. will we be seeing a series of group shots CDs, rural and urban landscapes, etc. in the future?]

BS: Initially, I figured I would do about 4-5 CDs, but I feel like I can do at least 10, now that I've started to plan them out.

I'll always do figure poses and I'll always utilize fresh new models for that. Since there are so many body styles, I would like to show people of different shapes and sizes. I've already chosen one of my female models for Vol. 4. She's a gorgeous African American model with a spectacular figure. She does some light weight lifting and has great shoulders and arms.

We're also going to see a focus on themes starting with Vol. 4. I've shot thousands of pictures and I'm starting to get better at categorizing picture galleries by theme. I have a police and firefighter theme coming up soon, and it will contain static and action shots. Good stuff.

I've been fortunate that several of my friends do a lot of traveling, so I will have pictures of other cities and countries. I think it will give the artist the ability to set up an establishing shot without hours of searching for pictures online.

And I've been experimenting with high-speed photography, so we'll see some "body in motion" shots very soon. It's pretty dynamic stuff when you actually see someone running directly toward the camera.

BB: What else have you got going on? Do you have any projects coming up at Marvel or elsewhere?

BS: Not much, actually. Due to unfortunate personal-life circumstances I haven't had time to write any new proposals for almost a year. That doesn't mean I haven't been writing, though. I've been doing a lot of writing and I anticipate I'll have a few things out next summer.

I've even met a few artists who sent me samples of art that they made using my photo reference. I've given them scripts and they are drawing the comics. We'll send out some pitches this fall.

BB: Is there any particular Marvel character or book you're dying to have a crack at? How about at DC, Dark Horse or elsewhere?

BS: Hahhaha, yeah, doesn't everyone?

At DC, I'd love to write the Atom, Flash, or Firestorm. I'd also love to write a really brutal, street-level crime story for Vertigo.

At Marvel, I'm a huge fan of second-tier characters like Machine Man, Black Cat, and all of the original X-Men. I think there's a lot you can do with good second-tier characters.

At Dark Horse, I'd like to get my hands on either Conan or Ghost. I think they could o a lot with those characters. Plus, Dark Horse has The Planet of the Apes [franchise]. I'm a POTA fan from childhood and would love to write a funny apes story.

There's a lot of interesting stuff going on with the indies as well. I love that IDW has CSI and Moonstone has Kolchak. I love what they are doing already, I'd like a chance to write a mini series for both of them.

BB: Why create your own imprint? Also, do you have any new projects coming out, or being worked up, which you'll be self publishing?

BS: Yeah, we're working out the details to do a couple of graphic novels in 2004. Like I mentioned, I have been writing and the artists have been drawing. I just haven't been pitching. And when you get to that point in your life, you realize that you may just end up self-publishing again.

I am a terrible story pitcher. I just never do it right. So I will probably avoid the inevitable humiliation of my own crappy pitches and just self publish.

BB: Let me play the devil's advocate for a moment. If you've already got an in at Marvel, why publish under your own label?

BS: Good question with three good answers:

1. I don't have to pitch anyone. 2. I own the characters I create. 3. No restrictions. Anytime you accept money to write someone else's characters, you must work within their parameters.

BB: What do you get from doing all this work, whether it be the Visual Reference discs or a mainstream book, or your own project?

BS: I know it sounds hokey, but I get a lot of personal fulfillment. We're only on this earth a very short time, and we have to make the most of our time. I want to make and create things. The Visual Reference CDs are part of my whole-life portfolio. Those photos and the way they are presented on the CD are part of my art.

Whenever I produce a CD or a comic or a video, I am sharing my art with other people. Sometimes I will get email from people who tell me that they really enjoyed a story or a particular photograph, and I feel like I am connecting with that person. That's what makes it all worthwhile.

BB: What do you hope that your readers get from your work? How about the artists and others who grab one or more volumes of the Visual Reference series?

BS: I want them to get a sense of my growth as a creator and artist. And I want them to see the world through my eyes. I think there are so many neat little things that we never see or forget to notice. Everyone is so pressed for time, that we overlook small details, the very details that are important to comic book artists.

Plus, I think that the world is a fun, funny place. I hope that shows through in my writing and photography.

If you stick with a particular creator from the start of their career, you can often see incremental growth and change. I'm hoping that people can see my work maturing and improving.

BB: Any last thoughts before I let you get back to it?

BS: I sure do talk a lot, don't I?


Head on over to to discover more about the Visual Reference for Comic Book Artists series, as well as the other projects that Buddy's been working on for both the entertainment and edification of fans, aspiring artists, and his fellow professionals.

<< 08/20/2003 | 08/27/2003 | 09/03/2003 >>

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